More Time to Be Happy

abraham-abe-lincoln-295315_1280 pixabay 12 14 17Time Magazine’s[1] list of “Healthy Habits for Happiness” are right in line with many of the things I believe God would have us do. That list includes:

  • Sleep—an average of 8 hours. Consider this verse from Psalm 127, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.
  • Exercise—increasingly considered a standard part of treatment for depression. Remember, life in Bible times was, by its very nature, filled with exercise. Think no cars, plenty of farming and shepherding and chopping wood.
  • Sunshine—which boosts synthesis of mood regulating serotonin, and was certainly a natural part of life long ago.
  • Diet. (A few more ideas about that here.)
  • Standing up straight and smiling—yep, even on down days, smiling seems to help. Perhaps that’s a physical part of the choice to rejoice, as in “Let us rejoice today and be glad!”[2]

Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” We can’t orchestrate our lives to be free of unhappy circumstances. The Apostle Paul said, though, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”[3] He also said, in that same letter, “Rejoice in the LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”[4]

According to Dennis Charney, dean of the ICAHN School of Medicine, we can train our brains to think a particular way. (So we can teach ourselves to think like Paul!) If we worry all the time, for example, we create a sort of worry rut. The PhD term is a neuronal pathway. Worry, or fear, or plain old grumpiness can become our default. If we choose more positive modes of thinking, of responding to difficulty, we can create new and better brain ruts, so to speak. But we have to work at making those changes. Something called “mindfulness” is a good place to start, and that’s exactly where we’ll start next week.

 

 

 

[1] The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life, A Time Special Edition, September 9, 2017.

[2] Psalm 118: 24b

[3] Philippians 4:12

[4] Philippians 4:4

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Shrek the Sheep

 

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You’ve probably seen the movies, may even have read the book, but have you heard about the sheep? Yes, Shrek is also the name of a famous sheep…on the other side of the world…New Zealand, to be exact, where the sheep population outnumbers the humans six to one.

We can safely assume that New Zealand shepherds are far smarter than their sheep. Thus, their sheep are best off cooperating with the one in charge. However, in the late 1990’s, Shrek the Renegade Sheep thought he had a better idea. Shrek decided he no longer wanted to be shorn. This was a foolish decision on the part of the renegade.

  • Long fleece can lead to overheating, limited mobility, and even disease.
  • Shearing also keeps older dirty wool from contaminating new growth.

Evidently none of that mattered to Shrek or, more likely, he simply wanted his own way and didn’t know any better. Big mistake! Want to know how big? Take a look at this photo. This is Shrek after hiding in caves, successfully avoiding six years of annual shearing.

Now, I ask you, does that look like a happy, healthy animal? When he was finally caught and shorn, the wool removed weight 60 pounds, enough to make 20 large men’s suits. Talk about carrying around extra baggage!

Are we ever Shrek-like? You bet.

  • When the Shepherd is ready to remove what we no longer need, or might even do us harm, how often do we balk, hide, or refuse to our own detriment?
  • When have we tried to hold on to what keeps us from healthy spiritual growth?

Surely we are always better off trusting the wisdom of our Shepherd, fully cooperating with the One in charge.

The next time I’m tempted to balk at what God is asking, I’m going to remember Shrek the Renegade, no make that, Miserable Looking Sheep and choose the Shepherd’s way over my own.

 

 

Questions from a Traveler

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Spring of 2017 brought great adventure. Steve and I left home for weeks, enjoying the world, our “kids”, each other…and taking time to re-think how the next season of our lives should look. Here are four questions I’ve found myself asking as I reflect back on the experience:

What is home? For ten weeks, I rarely slept in the Houston house that I call home. Furthermore, we’ll be moving from that address before the summer ends. Even though I am a homebody, I’ve been able to remain sane. I’m finally learning that particular walls and windows aren’t that important. When I have Steve with me, work to do, and a quiet place to pray, I can settle in. (Okay, having a kitchen helps, too.) Maybe home isn’t where the heart is, but where the Lord is. And since he’s everywhere, he can make us feel at home wherever he sends us.

How much stuff do we really need? I’m usually limited to one small suitcase and a backpack when we travel. I pile what I want to take on our bed, then start putting things back until I have a collection of items that will actually fit. When I’m finished packing, I’m always amazed at how much is still on my shelves and in my closet (and in the whole house, for that matter.) I rarely miss any of those items when I’m gone. This will be an important lesson to remember as we decide what goes with us to our next home. Furthermore, it’s time for me to think twice about how much time and money I ever need to spend adding to my belongings. There’s generally a better place to allocate those resources.

Do we keep the Story before us? I’ve spent countless hours in art museums lately. Many are chock full of tremendous paintings and sculptures that tell the story of Christ—his birth, his death, his resurrection. Each one evokes in me a moment of worship, of thanksgiving. But we can’t spend all our days in art museums. We need to be about the business of living—at the office, at home, in the car, out on errands. Even on those days, we need to keep the Story before us. As we attempt to keep our minds on Christ, art—perhaps in the form of music, pictures, or printed Bible verses—can help.

Do we grasp that Story with elation? I was in Germany on Easter Sunday. At 10:50 a church bell began to peal. Another joined it, then another. Soon the whole city seemed to be exploding in melodious proclamation. “He is risen!” I imagined the elation of the disciples as they shouted the discovery to one another. I need to recapture that elation every day.

On the easy days, on the hard days, the truth remains: He Lives! We have a good reason to rejoice!

Enjoy Your Day

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I went to Washington! Steve and I spent four days visiting the monuments and museums of our nation’s capital. Travel often means discovery for me. Here are two lessons I learned, or rather re-learned, during the course of this adventure.

Don’t kid yourself. You are not in charge. When I’m traveling, I am more keenly aware of my lack of control. Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar surroundings or the need to try things I simply haven’t mastered (like Uber and the Metro). At any rate, I often find myself relying on God in a different “I can’t do this on my own” sort of way as I prepare for a trip and head out the door. The uncertainties of travel sharpen my eye for the interventions and blessings that keep me on the right track. Little things—check out last month’s blog about shoes—and big things like safety and health. Now back in Houston, I’m hoping to maintain the same level of faith and reliance on our Lord, the same awareness of his blessing, as I jump back into everyday life.

Lesson Two: “Have a nice day?” The people of Washington are inordinately friendly, in my opinion. (Okay, I didn’t meet any politicians, but hopefully I could say the same for them.) Almost all of them end their greeting with “Have a nice day” or “Enjoy your day.” I used to say the first, but intend to try switching to the second. Here’s why. “Have a nice day” seems to indicate that all should be well. We know that, on far too many days, all will not, at least to our way of thinking, be well. We will forget the important, stumble into the inconvenient, experience pain and disappointment, or hear bad news. Some days simply will not be nice.

On the other hand, “Enjoy your day” says to me, “Look for the best. Keep an eye out for the blessing,” or, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Remember that ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’” (Look here  to read more of that catechism or to check out the scriptural support for its statements.) “Enjoy your day” means there is reason to rejoice even when the day isn’t nice. I’ve gone back to the real world now. I’m not on vacation anymore. The odds are high that, at some point, perhaps several points in the coming week, my day will not be nice. I hope to be able to rejoice and glorify and enjoy nonetheless. And when I greet friends, I will try to remember to say, “Enjoy your day!”

 

The Relational Ride (or iPhone Alternatives for a Great Family Vacation)

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Your family + nineteen hours in the car. A blessing or a great big bother?

Attitude is everything, so they say. My friend Karen has a terrific outlook on spending hours upon hours in the car with her kids. Since summer is coming, I asked permission to share her wisdom with my readers. So, if you’re a parent planning a summer road trip with your kids, this blog’s for you. (If you’re not in that category, perhaps you can share it with someone else who needs it.)

Pray. Pray before you even start your engine. Begin by seeing your road trip as a blessed opportunity to spend uninterrupted quality time together with your family. You have a captive audience. Take advantage of the situation! Talk. Laugh. Bond.

Break it up. Use rest areas as a chance to toss a ball, run a race, or take a hike for 15 minutes or so. Little bodies weren’t made to sit indefinitely. (Frankly, neither were adult bodies. Steve and I are much happier travelers if we move around every couple of hours.)

Pack their bags. Give each child an individual bag with a few travel treats: favorite snacks, sugarless gum, a new book, an activity book, crayons, paper, stickers, or small toys. Don’t let personal electronics eat up too much of the trip. Those little battery powered boxes will draw each person into a world of their own, putting an end to relationship building. That might be fine for a little while, but resist the temptation to let “screens” become the norm.

Prepare to be entertained. Look for activities the whole family can enjoy together: audio books, read aloud books, Mad Libs Junior, trivia games, or Twenty Questions. Again, try to keep the movies to a minimum. Remember, this is a time to be together!

Teach appreciation. In Karen’s words, “I always encourage the boys to look outside and see what’s different or beautiful about the current surroundings.  We take note of sunsets and rainbows, wildlife and mountains and lakes.”

Thanks, Karen, for your great advice. Now, how about the rest of you? How do you turn long hours on the road into something memorable and fun?

 

Defying Gravity

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Last year, after listening to the music for quite some time, I finally saw Wicked on stage. Since I grew up watching Wizard of Oz once a year on television (our only option back in the dark ages of video technology), I enjoyed the new spin on an old story. One song still sticks in my brain and pops into my thoughts on occasion. Actually, it’s only one line that keeps on repeating itself. In my imagination, I can hear Elphaba declaring that she will try defying gravity. More than once, as I’ve trudged up my stairs feeling low, I’ve heard those three words resound within my thoughts. I want to try defying gravity this year too.

Before you think me crazy for wanting to fly, let me tell you exactly what I mean.

My grandson is so delightfully quick to laugh. I suspect you and I were the same way as toddlers. When does that fade? And why? I know that Nick is unaware of the difficulties adulthood will bring, but he also knows little of the joys that await him. He laughs in the present moment.

We live in a world that fixates on the grave details of life, and not just the ones that are facing us today. We mull over the pain of the past and our fears of the future, often for no good reason at all. Matthew 6:34 says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Actually, I like the King James Version of that verse even better, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And as we face the “evil” of each day, how often do we falsely imagine ourselves facing it alone, forgetting the One who goes before us and stands behind us?

Here is how I want to try defying gravity. When heavy concerns come into my brain, I want to take them to my Lord in prayer without pause. When I catch myself frowning with furrowed brow, I want to lighten my countenance in a way that confirms the song God has put in my heart. And when I am tempted to join a discussion centered only on the failures of man or the bleak landscape ahead, I want to either walk away or change the course of the conversation. Who would have thought the Wicked Witch of the West could remind me of such important truths? This year, I hope you will try to defy gravity right along with me.